NEW YORK -- Growing numbers of visitors to the Holy Land may result
in a major tourism conference and an increase in regional
cooperation, Israel's minister of tourism, Amnon Lipkin-Shahak,
said during a visit here.
Lipkin-Shahak said there has been an increase in tourism during
the last three months and arrivals are up 10% this year over
He predicted 3 million arrivals next year, following an expected
visit by Pope John Paul II in the spring. But, according to
Lipkin-Shahak, his goal is to have significant increases after
that, as well.
The surge has led to the consideration of a second Prime
Minister's Tourism Conference. The first was held about four years
ago by Yitzhak Rabin, who then held the chief government post. That
conference drew nearly 1,000 travel professionals from around the
world, he said.
According to Lipkin-Shahak, the next conference "probably" would
be held in the fall of 2000. The tourism minister pointed to
potential growth areas that included unused beaches along the
Mediterranean Sea and the conference market.
"The opportunities are there," he said. "It is up to us to make
Regarding conferences, Lipkin-Shahak observed that Hawaii is not
much closer to the eastern U.S. than is Israel's Red Sea resort
city of Eilat, where convention facilities have been built at
several lavish hotels. The locale's seashore and desert expanse
provide alluring attractions for visitors, he said.
The government minister also said he would try to revive Memtta
(the Middle East-Mediterranean Travel and Tourism Association) and
encourage regional travel so tourists can pursue their interests
across borders. "I am a great believer in cooperation in tourism,"
Lipkin-Shahak added that he was hoping to warm up working
relations with Egypt. Israel has had a cool peace with Egypt since
the 1970s. Lipkin-Shahak said he hopes to accomplishment this
through the good offices of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and
the encouragement of U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright.